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Google Tips: How to get the most out of Google

You Command and the Net Genie Finds.

In less than five years, “to google” has become a generic verb to describe searching the world wide web — and with good reason. Yet even experienced fact-seekers may be unaware of the full range of powers that the world’s favourite search engine places at their fingertips. Like a friendly spirit that says, “Your wish is my command”, Google is limited only by the skill and imagination of its master. In this extract from a new, unofficial Google manual, you will discover the advanced commands and tips that searchers can draw on to summon the Google genie…

When you type a query into the Google search box, you can add commands (also called operators) that tell Google something specific about your search. For example, titles — the underscored words in blue that appear at the top of each Google search result — are different from web addresses. Titles are handy to search when you want pages that really focus on your topic. Type in the command intitle with a colon before each of your terms, without spaces: intitle:bird intitle:watching or intitle:“bird watching” (note quotation marks). The first example finds titles that contain each of your terms; the second finds titles that contain the exact phrase. A variation of this command, allintitle, finds pages that have all your keywords or phrases in the title, in any order. For example: allintitle:bird watching Scotland.

A link anchor refers to the words and pictures on a web page that serve as links to another page. Mostly, a link is a blue, underlined word or phrase that describes a related, linked page, but they turn up as buttons, icons or images, too. The inanchor operator searches for text in link anchors. It’s a nifty way to gain an idea of which or how many pages link to a person, place or thing. Sometimes, it can help you find an e-mail address, since most web pages consider e-mail addresses to be links. Use it like this: inanchor: “Andrew Sullivan to find sites linking to the popular political weblog The Daily Dish. Not surprisingly, Google has an allinanchor option. Bear in mind that the key words you specify with this command must all appear in a link anchor in order to show up in your results.

The site command makes a quick and handy search function for websites that don’t have their own search feature. Unlike the previous commands, site has two parts. First, you have to attach a web address to the site: command. Second, you add the keywords or phrases you want to search for: site:uefa.com “Luis Figo” goals, or site:gov.uk “agricultural subsidies. You don’t have to include http:// or www and you don’t have to put the site name in quotes. You can also exclude a particular website from your search by placing a hyphen before the command. For example, if you want to look for sites about books, but don’t want to wade through results from Amazon, books -site:amazon.co.uk does the trick. Mostly. This doesn’t block Amazon UK’s international partners, such as Amazon.com, because that is not the site you specified. To avoid all instances of Amazon in an address, and to search within site subdirectories (words at the end of a site name after a slash), use the inurl command, as below.

The inurl operator tells Google to look only for web addresses (URLs) that include your search terms. No body text. No titles. Unlike the site command, inurl doesn’t require additional query words: inurl:“great pumpkin is perfectly acceptable. Remember, a URL can’t contain any spaces, like the one between “great” and “pumpkin”, but if your query includes an exact phrase that has spaces, Google automatically searches for variations that work in URLs, such as great, pumpkin and great-pumpkin. Unlike the site command, inurl lets you search sub-directories. Thus, the search inurl:ebay.co.uk/help brings a gaggle of links to eBay help pages. When using inurl, you can’t include http:// or Google will come up with zero results. As with the site: command, you can exclude a site from your search. For example, books -inurl:amazon. A variation, allinurl, finds all instances of your keywords, but it doesn’t mix well with some other special commands.

If your keywords describe a concept, you might want the results to include synonyms for your query. For example, if you’re looking for technical help, it’s useful to include automatically synonyms like support and customer service without having to type them all in. The ~ symbol tells Google to look for synonyms of the term immediately following the symbol. Typing ~ help Microsoft Word yields a list of pages with tips/hints/advice/guidance about the word-processing program.

Some combinations of commands work extremely well. Here is an example to start you off: intitle and site. If you wanted a sense of the fill-in forms available from the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, you could enter intitle:form site:defra.gov.uk. If you want to narrow that down, you could include other keywords, like this: Rural Enterprise intitle:form site:defra.gov.uk. As noted above, some commands work only on their own, while some play well with others. For those you can combine, cleverly splicing them together can narrow your search results in the most satisfying manner. The trick is to experiment and find out what works best for your searches.

The most important rules to keep in mind are those dictating which commands not to mix. These don’t get along with any of the others: allinurl, allintitle, allinanchor. You can also run into trouble by doubling up a single operator. The query “history coursessite:com site:sch might look as though you are asking Google to give you results form either .com or .sch sites; in fact, you are telling it that your results should come from sites that are simultaneously part of both domains. Unfortunately, there is no such address as www.google.com.sch. If you want results from .sch and .com domains only, try “history coursessite:sch OR site:com.

You can temporarily change Google’s behaviour by placing an ampersand (&) at the end of the results address (the long string that ends up in your browser’s address bar after you’ve hit Search) and adding a modifier which is simply a term that alters your results slightly. So, if you don’t see num= (which tells you the number of search results Google will show on each results page) in the results address, add an ampersand (&), then type in num=x, where x is your desired number. For example, set the number of results to 50 per page by adding &num=50. By adding &as_qdr=m#, you can alter the maximum age of the results, in months. Simply change the # symbol to any number from 1 to 12. This trick can be an excellent way of narrowing results to only the freshest pages — handy when looking for a page that you are sure has been changed recently.

To make sure the SafeSearch filter is on, add this to the search URL: &safe=on.

Google Groups are handy for finding arcane bits of knowledge shared by specialists (how to use an old Atari console as a web server), for connecting with people who share an interest of yours (Renaissance portraits), or for hooking up with an expert who might be able to answer a question (whether your family has ancestors in Wellingborough). For tech support, consider heading over to Groups, where you can search existing messages for help and post questions or answers.

The groups (accessed from Google’s home page) are organised by categories, each of which has sub-categories. Each topic contains many discussions (also known as threads), and each discussion is made up of one or more posts. Top-level categories, such as those listed on the Google Groups home page, are called hierarchies. All groups fit into a hierarchy, as indicated by the first part of a group’s name followed by a dot. For example, the Sci. (science) hierarchy has a sub-category called Agriculture.

The Google Groups home page lists 10 hierarchies. Alt. stands for alternative, but might as well mean “anything goes” and is by far the largest hierarchy, containing thousands of groups. The rest have dozens, sometimes hundreds. You can browse these groups alphabetically from the Groups main page by clicking “Browse complete list of groups”. When you see a asterisk in a group name, that means the group has many sub-categories, beneath which come sub-groups. For example, Microsoft.* means that the Microsoft hierarchy has sub-categories, and Microsoft.public.* means that Microsoft.public also has several sub-groups (296, in fact), and so on. The asterisk is a wildcard, and this is the one place on Google where a wildcard works.

Google: The Missing Manual, First Edition by Sarah Milstein and Rael Dornfest, published 2004 (O’Reilly Media).

Article courtesy of The Sunday Times
June 6, 2004

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